Early last fall, several faculty members from York House School had the opportunity to deepen the school’s relationship with San Diego’s High Tech High and further extend their learning around project-based learning. Kara McDonald, Melissa Kanavos, Erin Riendl, and Julie Harris participated together with school-based teams at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education, representing nine schools from across North America and faculty from Columbia and Cornell universities.
Central to their learning was examining ways to engage students in hands-on 21st Century learning that cultivates communication, collaboration, as well as critical and creative thinking, while also incorporating student voice and passion. Inspired by their own learning, on their return to YHS, our team of educators connected with three more YHS faculty (Marnie Seliwoniuk, Madeleine Abbott, and Lela Ling) to create an eight-week interdisciplinary project. Eighty of our Grade 4 and 5 students participated in this unique project that explored the themes of play, collaboration, and friendship.
Over the course of the eight weeks, our students explored driving questions such as: How do we sustain friendships? What is play? And how can we build a play structure that encourages collaboration among children?
Students learned about Design Thinking, photography, interviewing techniques for researching, simple machines, innovative play structures, and project management with experts in their fields, and then had the opportunity to reflect on their learning. The project culminated on March 9 in an energizing exhibition where students shared their learning with peers, their families, and educators. The results were truly impressive. Their photography was sophisticated beyond their years, the playground structure designs on display were clever in both form and function, and their reporting back on the research process was thoughtful and insightful.
The students were divided into groups where they focused on three key areas: research, photography, and design. Students explored play and friendships by observing and photographing children playing on the Junior School and Little School play structures as well as other innovative playgrounds in the city. A journalist, Eric Zimmer, talked to them about interviewing skills and writing stories based on interviews. They created open-ended interview questions and interviewed JK, Grade 4, Grade 5, and Grade 8 students to find out about their friendships and how they play. Based on their learnings about friendship and play, they then wrote playground reviews and articles.
Senior School Art Teacher and professional photographer, Jonathan Lee, helped them to explore photography using five criteria (angle, colour, lines and patterns, focus, and the “Rule of Thirds”). With these criteria in mind, they photographed a number of playgrounds and then chose which photos to display as part of the exhibition. Once the photos were chosen, he also provided them with feedback on their selections.
Students used their research on simple machines and play, to design and build a playground structure that encouraged collaborative play between two or more children. Using the Design Thinking process to create the structure, they used a variety of materials including wood and saws to build them and were given feedback from Jeff Musson of Habitat Systems Playground Design.Commenting on what they learned about collaboration:
“I learned that other people that you have not worked with before can bring new ideas and new components to your thinking.” – Terra, Gr. 5
“Sometimes I am a little bossy and that I need to step back and let people do what they want to do and sometimes I need to step up when nobody has anything to say.”
– Sena, Gr. 4
“Before this project, I thought that I was really good at working in a group, and I thought that I’ll have no problem. But throughout the project, I learned that collaborating with your group is hard, and always saying positive things is hard because you might not like the idea, or what they just said.” – Joyce, Gr. 5
Both teachers and students learned a lot from this project and are excited to collaborate on future endeavours that ignite student passions and deepen learning in real-world applications. These are the kinds of authentic learning opportunities that are emphasized in our YHS 2030 strategic priorities and in the new BC Curriculum.
The YHS team is also exploring partnerships with outside educators involved in the High Tech High Program who are interested in building networks and collaborating with students on future project-based initiatives.